Wild praise Torchetti after turning season around

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Wild have turned yet another season around, just in time.

This year, John Torchetti’s takeover of the team was the stimulus. Perhaps the journeyman coach will be rewarded with an eventual removal of the interim tag.

“That confidence, it’s a big word with players,” said Torchetti, who is 15-6-1 in 22 games, steering the once-sinking Wild back on track for the Stanley Cup playoffs. “It’s my job, when I took over, to gain the players’ confidence that I trust them in all situations. I think once players trust, not just their coach but their teammates, they’re able to play the game faster.”

With a 4-1 victory on Tuesday over nemesis Chicago, the Wild stretched their season-long winning streak to six games. With five games left, they are five points ahead of Colorado for the second wild card in the Western Conference.

“I think it was just a stand by all of us in this locker room. Enough is enough,” defenseman Matt Dumba said. “We were sick of losing games to probably teams we shouldn’t and ended up beating the ones that were higher up in the standings that we knew we could.”

Torchetti was summoned Feb. 13 from the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa when they fell to 1-11-2 in a fateful 14-game stretch that triggered the firing of Mike Yeo, the franchise’s third head coach in 15 seasons of existence.

This team rallied in each of the last three winters to make the playoffs, so falling below the cut shouldn’t have been a major problem. The 51-year-old Torchetti had done the interim thing before, with Florida in 2004 and Los Angeles in 2006 when changes on the bench put him in charge for the balance of those seasons.

After seven years as a player in the minor leagues, the Boston native has coached or managed with 15 different teams in six different leagues since 1994. He has accumulated all kinds of experience as a motivator, strategist and teacher through stints from San Antonio to Moscow with five NHL stops in between. Torchetti coached some of the Wild’s young players previously in the AHL, too.

Still, uncertainty swirled about the effect the switch would have on a team that reached each of the last two conference semifinals but was mired in a malaise of underperforming veterans and underdeveloped youngsters. Yeo’s message, whether his fault or not, seemed to be failing to register with some players.

Sometimes, though, a team just needs a jolt. Energy is supposed to come from Zach Parise. Leadership is on Mikko Koivu‘s shoulders. Torchetti, though, knew he needed to get more out of the lower-line players and get the whole lineup back to its grind-it-out roots to make this turnaround work.

“He expects, he always says, low-maintenance, high-character guys,” right wing Charlie Coyle said.

Torchetti hasn’t been afraid to be bold, making forwards Jason Zucker and Thomas Vanek healthy scratches for multiple games for a lack of defensive intensity. Enamored with the two-way effort of Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter, Torchetti has watched that third-line pair flourish.

“Nothing’s changed from when he was down there to up here,” said forward Jordan Schroeder, who played for Torchetti in the AHL. “He stays true to himself. He’s honest with you.”

The Wild almost certainly will conduct a coaching search once their season is over, so there’s no guarantee this short-term success will give Torchetti the job going forward. Player endorsements have been easy to find.

“I think I would be surprised if anybody told you that they wouldn’t like to see him around,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said.

For now, they’re set to ride this re-invigoration right into the playoffs, as long as they keep playing like they did on Tuesday.

“You see guys like Zach blocking shots, Mikko just playing underneath sticks hard, Charlie’s bleeding, Dumba’s fighting, that’s what it’s all about,” Torchetti said, his New England accent as subtle as a slap shot to the foot. “That’s playoff hockey for me. That’s the fun part of watching.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.